VOORHEES, N.J. – The response was unprompted.
Ian Laperriere was asked about his challenges in his new job as a Flyers assistant coach, his first coaching experience of his career.
In his response he talked about some pet projects, and one in specific.
“I’d like to make Zac Rinaldo a penalty killer,” Laperriere said. “I think he has a lot of speed. I love that he comes to me with a lot of questions. It’s like he’s on my Pee Wee A team except he doesn’t roll his eyes like my son does.”
Instead, Rinaldo is an apt pupil.
And he is because he wants to make his bones in the NHL as more than just a human missile hitting anything that moves. More than just an on-ice agitator, or a guy willing to drop gloves as needed.
Knowing he will never be a big time goal scorer in the league, Rinaldo figures he will have a long career if he can be a glue guy in the locker room, a dose of on-ice energy for his teammates and even better – a penalty killing dynamo who the team can count on to prevent the other squad from scoring with the man advantage.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do the last couple years,” Rinaldo said. “It’s something I’ve tried to do here.”
Rinaldo would practice with the penalty kill unit frequently under former coach Peter Laviolette, but he never really got the opportunity to take on the role during games.
Something was missing. It wasn’t desire. It wasn’t ability. It wasn’t speed. Maybe it was technique. Maybe it was know-how. Maybe it was simply a chance to prove it.
All signs are now pointing to Rinaldo getting that chance sometime soon, because he’s learning from one of the best in the business when it comes to the PK.
“Lappy is a huge role model now, more than before he was coaching,” Rinaldo said. “He gives me a lot of pointers that I never really thought of and they are coming into play more now than they ever did before.
“He’s played the game recently and he knows what it’s about. I have questions all day and I can ask anyone questions, but he’s going to be the main guy I ask because of his [recent] experience. He knows what’s going on.”
Which is what excites Laperriere as he makes the transition to coach.
“I’m more excited and nervous than anything else,” he said. “Homer said to me, ‘just be yourself’ and so far it took me pretty far in life just being myself and that’s what I’m going to do.
“I played with a few of these guys and that’s a dangerous thing, but I won’t change. If I did change, that would be hypocritical. I wouldn’t be comfortable with that. I’ll work with them on little details that Chief and John Paddock can’t get to. I’m there to correct things positionally and on the PK and things like that. I’m going to help those guys be better penalty killers both individually and as a team.”
And Lappy hit the ground running.
“There’s so many things he’s told me in the last four days that I’m already putting to use in practice,” Rinaldo said. “I’m kind of just picking his brain really.
“I’ve asked Chief a lot of questions, but I go to Lappy now. He’s my teacher and my mentor. Not that he said he’s my mentor but I look at him as my mentor right now.”
It’s a pretty good act to follow.
Laperriere was one of the most well-respected players in the NHL for the better part of the past two decades. A lot of that had to do with his approach to the game.
Laperriere was never the most skilled player, or the fastest, or the toughest, but he learned how to do a little bit of everything in his career, and it’s what led to him being around for so long.
He had a secret recipe to that long-term success – and unlike a selfish chef, he’s ready to share it with the Flyers players.
“As a player I would look around the room and pick up all the things from my teammates – the good stuff – and I did that with my coaches too, both the good stuff and the bad stuff,” Laperriere said. “I played for five teams and probably had eight or nine coaches and hopefully I only kept the good stuff and translate that to my job now.”
Laperriere heaped some praise on his final coach – Peter Laviolette – saying that he will take a lot from his one year with Laviolette and bring it to his coaching style, but said his biggest influences were from when he was a younger player in the NHL.
“Preparation-wise Andy Murray was the best-prepared coach I ever played for,” Laperriere said. “He wasn’t perfect, no one is, I mean I played for Mike Keenan too and I don’t think I’m going to take too many tips from him. It doesn’t work today. Those coaches don’t last.
“But, Larry Robinson was a guy I really liked too. He’s personable, has a great pedigree. He won so many Cups and is in the Hall of Fame but his biggest quality is how he talks to guys and how he makes them feel like he cares about them and wants to make them better. That’s what are job is as coaches – to make them better. And if they’re better they’ll make the team better and everyone will be happy.”
Turning Rinaldo is just the first step toward that goal. You can bet Laperriere has many more projects on his list too.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
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